The Minister for Education has confirmed that antigen testing for school pupils will come into effect from Monday 29 November, and that all guidance will be made available to schools and parents this week.
Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Norma Foley also said there are now 680 substitute teachers available to provide emergency cover to schools.
Many of these teachers are already available to go into classrooms and more will become available soon, he said.
Ms Foley said the issue is more acute in some areas than others, adding that a combination of measures were needed to tackle the problem.
Antigen testing will be available in schools from next Monday, Minister for Education Norma Foley has said.— RTÉ News (@rtenews) November 24, 2021
She said this will be 'an additional tool' in schools, with guidance to be made available to schools and parents this week | Read more: https://t.co/Fg3dbguBiz pic.twitter.com/Pn8gcnVNJU
The support of the higher education institutions in facilitating the release of student teachers was a "very positive step forward", she said, adding that trainee teachers will be paid.
In addition, retired teachers will now be able to work unrestricted until the end of the school year, without any impact on their pensions, while 100 additional teachers have been added to supply panels.
Ms Foley said that many of these plans were in place last August, but that "Covid takes many twists and turns and we have to be resilient and flexible at given times to introduce new measures as required.
A combination of measures will tackle issues around the supply of substitute teachers, Minister for Education Norma Foley has said.— RTÉ News (@rtenews) November 24, 2021
She said an agreement reached with teacher education colleges is 'a very positive step forward' | Read more: https://t.co/Fg3dbguBiz pic.twitter.com/Cwtjp3yzuv
"That is exactly what we have done at this point. And indeed we will continue to do going."
She acknowledged that these were "exceptionally challenging times" for schools but stressed that the Department of Education has followed public health advice "every step of the way," adding that expert public health advice and evaluation remains that schools are places of low transmission.
Ms Foley said over 35,000 CO2 monitors have been installed in schools, and that natural ventilation was the best possible source.
She said that schools with additional difficulties can contact engineers or architects or make use of a technical advice team in the department.
Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall said the Government's "lack of urgency and failure to respond at speed" on antigen testing is "truly shocking".
Speaking during Leaders' Questions in the Dáil, Deputy Shortall described the situation as a "mess" in which the Cabinet did not even discuss the issue at its meeting yesterday.
Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall says the Government's approach to antigen testing is 'just not good enough’. She says people are doing their best, so asks why the Government is not giving them the tools they need to win this fight. | Read more: https://t.co/h6d8UyPHo1 pic.twitter.com/HxEahXLruA— RTÉ News (@rtenews) November 24, 2021
She said most people were "trying to do their best" and she inquired: "Why not give them the basic tools?"
Ms Shortall said there was "a strong case" for antigen tests to be free.
Responding, Taoiseach Micheál Martin did not put a time frame on when a scheme would be finalised but he said that there had been a "significant expansion" of antigen tests.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin says research is indicating that people are adjusting their behaviour in response to high Covid figures. He says antigen testing is a supplementary tool and has been rolled out significantly in the last six months. | Read more: https://t.co/h6d8UyPHo1 pic.twitter.com/U6Kllt7o7g— RTÉ News (@rtenews) November 24, 2021
Citing statistics, he said that 100,000 tests have been distributed to the agriculture sector and 3,000 are being issued each day, free of charge, to close contacts.
Mr Martin said that antigen testing is not a "silver bullet" but the Government is acting to help people, including increasing PCR capacity to 210,000 tests a week.
Additional reporting Paul Cunningham